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self again.

He touched rapidly upon a great number of prob-
lems, talking well, with an animation that surprised
her. But she knew that he was trying to make her
forget her perturbation of a moment ago. It was an
enormous satisfaction to know that he understood; it
was almost uncanny that he understood so much of
what was in her mind and heart without being told.

"If it isn't impudent for me to ask, I'd like to know
just what you're aiming at," he said. "You look like
a girl who might be cursed with ambitions. Can't
you let me into the secret?"

"Oh, honestly, I haven't anyl When I was at the
university I thought I had some but they were silly.
Like every other girl I was crazy for a while to be
a trained nurse, then a settlement worker, and I even
thought I might be a writer, and for about a week
I had a craze to study medicine. Then I had to leave
college, so I took a job in a department store! How's
that for ambition!"

"A little mixed; but the books are not closed yet!
There's plenty of time for fresh entries. There's mar-
riage. You've overlooked that. That must be on
the program!"


"It's not the first number ! College girls who don't
get married the day after commencement are likely
to wait awhile. I'm not a bit excited about getting
married. I want to look the world over before I settle

Suppose you fell in love some fine fellow who could
take good care of you. What then?"

"Well, I've had chances to marry and I couldn't see
it. I've never been in love not really. There's
a professor who wanted to marry me a widower with
two children. You wouldn't have me do that? And
young fellows, several of them, very nice, who caused
me a lot of bother before I got rid of them. I lifced
them all but I couldn't love them."

"Then I'll make the prediction that always applies
in such cases; some day you'll meet just the right man
and that will be the end of it."

"Maybe; but I don't see it now. All I want all I
want right now is to be free! " she said and a far-away
look came into the dark eyes.

"One can be free and terribly lonesome too," he
suggested. "There's nothing quite so horrible as being
lonesome. This is a big world and just knocking
around by yourself isn't much good. We all need
companionship; the soul cries for it."

She glanced at him quickly, surprised at his sudden
seriousness and the note of depression in his voice.
In her great liking for him she groped for an ex-
planation of his change of mood. He had not struck
her as at all a moody person. Some reply seemed
necessary and she was at a loss to know what to say
to him.

"But you're a success!" she exclaimed. "It's only
when a man fails that he's likely to be lonesome."

"Success is a beautiful word, but to myself I'm a
decided failure. I've failed in the most important


thing a man ever undertakes. Don't look at me like
thatl I'll explain. I'm supposed to be a mechanical
expert, but there's one mechanism that's beyond me.
I'm referring to the heart of a woman. My ignorance
of that contrivance is complete."

The grim look that had come into his face yielded
to a smile as he saw her bewilderment.

"You're going to be bored in a minute 1 I didn't
want you to think me more than twenty-seven and
you're already guessing that I'm at least seventy and
a doddering wreck!"

"I wasn't thinking that at all. You seemed unhappy
and I was sorry!"

"Well, don't be sorry for me. I'm not deserving
of anyone's pity not even my own. When I spoke
of failure I was thinking of my marriage. Irene prob-
ably told you I'm married?"

"Oh, yes; I asked her the first thing!"

"And it made no difference to you about coming
I mean."

"None whatever," she laughed. "I just thought of
it as an experience."

"Rather like studying a bug under glass, is that it?"

"Yes, something of the sort. But you were speak-
ing of your wife."

"Well," he said with a smile; "my being married
is not a confidential matter; nothing to hide or be
ashamed of. My wife is a very charming woman.
You'd probably fall under her spell if you knew her;
people frequently do. And I think she'd probably
like you."

"Not if she knew I had met you at a party like

"Bless you, that wouldn't make a particle of differ-
ence in her liking you or not liking you! She's broad-


minded very much so! And it's one of her many
good points that she isn't jealous. If she came in here
and found me talking to you she wouldn't scream
and break up the furniture; she'd join in the conver-
sation and make herself interesting say startling
things just to make us sit up. After a fashion she's a
philosopher, very much entertained by what the
world's doing. She sees in me only one of the many
millions, a queer specimen for the microscope. She
actually puts me into the books she writes!"

Grace bent her head, lifted it quickly and exclaimed:
"Is she Mary Graham Trenton? I've read her 'Clues
to a New Social Order' but I never imagined "

"No, you wouldn't connect me with anything so
daring! I need hardly repeat that she's a broad-
minded woman. I'd be interested to know how you
come to know about that book."

"Oh, that's easy enough. We had a lecture on it in
our sociology course at the university. The head
of the department didn't approve of Mrs. Trenton's
views and warned us against the book, so of course
I read it!"


"But it's interesting; awfully interesting."

"Written, I assure you," laughed Trenton, "by a
remarkable woman!"


The unhappy marriages of which Grace had known
had failed for obvious reasons, but Trenton's case was
fascinating in its subtleties. He spoke of his wife
as a man might speak of a woman he admired in a
detached sort of way without really knowing her.


In spite of his amiable attitude toward Mrs. Trenton,
Grace found herself instantly his partisan; she was
sure his failure as he called it was his wife's fault.
She greatly disliked this woman she had never seen.
She started and flushed when he said abruptly, al-
most as though he had read her thoughts:

"You're getting ready to pity me but don't do
it! It's something in me that's wrong. We don't
quarrel and throw dishes across the table or call each
other names. We respect each other tremendously.
It isn't even one of these triangular affairs, another
man or woman. When we meet now and then we
talk quite sanely and sensibly of the news of the
day and the arts and sciences, as two strangers
might talk in a smoking car. The trouble may lie
right there. A man and wife must be necessary to
each other to make a perfect marriage and we are not.
For seven or eight years we've mostly gone our sepa-
rate ways. She has her own interests, plenty of them.
If I tell her I'm going to Hong Kong to do a job and
ask her to go along she'll say that she doesn't think
it would amuse her. She'll go to Paris and stay till
I come back. All cheerful, you understand; no row!
Mrs. Trenton's quite able to do as she pleases, as to
money, I mean, independently of me. And she
knows people everywhere and they like to have her
around. I like having her around myself!"

"Perhaps one of these days everything will come
right," said Grace.

"Possibly," he said. "But that's enough of me.
Let's talk about you a little."

He drew her out as to her experiences at the univer-
sity but when these were exhausted he told her some-
thing of his own history. He had been thrown upon
the world at an early age, and, not without difficulty,


had worked his way through a technical school. His
profession had carried him to every part of the world.
He told amusing stories of the reaction of remote
foreign peoples to the magic of modern machinery.
No other man had ever interested Grace half so much.
Trenton was like a pilgrim from another and larger
world; she was fascinated by the cosmopolitan fashion
in which he changed the scene of his adventures from
China to South Africa and from South America to
far-flung islands whose very names were touched with
the glamour of romance. Some of his journeys had
been merely pleasure excursions; he got restless some-
times, he said, and had to go somewhere; but chiefly
he had traveled to sell or to install machinery, or to
work out mechanical problems under new and difficult
conditions. There was no conceit in him a vein of
self-mockery ran through most of his talk. He made
light of the perplexities and dangers he had encount-
ered; there was no fun, he said, in the performance
of easy tasks. He knew usually when he was employed
that his services were sought in the hope that he
might be able to solve riddles which other very cap-
able persons had given up.

Grace studied him at leisure through his desultory
monologue, interrupting only to ask questions to keep
him assured of her interest. Her mind turned back
repeatedly to what he had said of his" wife. She was
quite sure that Mrs. Trenton didn't appreciate her
husband's fine qualities. He was a man of genius,
and as such probably wasn't always easy to under-
stand; but it was Mrs. Trenton's business, the girl re-
flected, to learn to understand him, to seek ways of
making him happy. She was more and more struck
by his seeming indifference to most things, even to
his own achievements. Her imagination played upon


him with girlish romanticism. He ought to be aroused,
awakened; he deserved to be loved, to have the com-
panionship he craved. And yet from the manner in
which he spoke of his wife it was a serious question
whether he didn't love her. Whether the unknown
woman loved him was another question that kept
thrusting itself into her thoughts.

As he rambled on through the hour they were alone
he played fitfully with the end of a gold locket which
he carried on his watch chain. He would draw this
from his right hand waistcoat pocket, seemingly un-
conscious of what he was doing, and hold it in his hand
or smooth it caressingly. She speculated as to whether
it did not contain a picture of Mrs. Trenton; she even
considered asking him to let her see it.

Again steps and voices were heard above and Tren-
ton looked at his watch.

"It's eleven o'clock and Tommy and I are taking
the midnight train for St. Louis," he said. "We've
got to beat it."

She rose and stood beside him, sorry that the eve-
ning was so nearly over.

"I'll always remember tonight; you've been awfully
nice to me!" she said.

"Please don't! If you begin thanking me I'll know
you feel I'm older than the hills. I see it all now!
I made my story cover too many years!"

"Oh, that's not it at all!" she protested. "I was
just wondering how you ever crowded so much into
your young life!"

"You do that sort of thing very prettily! And when
you look at me like that you become dangerous."

"You really don't think I'm dangerous not in the
least little bit!"

"I'm not to be caught in that trap! A wise man


never acknowledges to a woman that she's dangerous.
They ought to have taught you that at the university.
But you're patient! You've listened to me as Des-
demona listened to Othello!"

"I believe," she said daringly, tilting her head, "I
believe I'd like to flirt with you oh, just a little bit!"

He took a step nearer, his hands thrust into his
pockets in his characteristic way. He drew them out
and they fell to his side as he regarded her fixedly
with a smile on his lips. Then very gently he took her
cheeks between his hands. She thrilled at the touch.
They were fine strong hands ; she had noted repeatedly
all through the evening now finely formed they were,
and the strength implied in them.

"It's meant very much to me to meet you you
can't know how much. I almost feel that I know you
a little bit."

"It's meant so much more to me," she returned
sincerely. "I'd be ashamed if I wasn't grateful. And
that doesn't mean at all that I feel that you're a day
older than I am!"

They were smiling gravely into each other's eyes.
There was not for the moment at least any question
of a disparity of years. She drew away slowly until
her face was free of his touch; then she laid her hands
lightly on his shoulders.

"Please kiss me," she whispered, and their lips met.

"Here, you two!"

They swung around to find Kemp in the door, watch
in hand.

"We've just got time to make it. Your bag is at
the station, Ward? All right. Go up and get your
things, Grace. And tell Irene to hurry."

Kemp was again the man of business, his preoccu-
pation with the journey already showing in his eyes.


Irene was giving the last touches to her hair when
Grace found her.

"Ready in just a minute," she said. "How did you
get on with good old Ward?"

"He's perfectly lovely! He's the most interesting
man I ever met!"

"That's what they all say. Have any luck vamp-
ing him?"

"Of course not," replied Grace, putting on her hat.
"You couldn't expect me to make a hit with a man
like that. He's too big and much too wise."

"Oh, the wiser they are the harder they fall!" re-
plied Irene carelessly. "It's something that he didn't
leave you and go out for a walk all by his lonesome.
That's the way he treated a girl I wished on him once.
Actually, my dear, walked out of the house and didn't
come back till Tommy and I were ready to go! But
she got soused, the little fool. I guess I was lit up
for a little while tonight and Tommy certainly was
feeling his poison when Jerry put the wine away. He's
all right now. It hits him quick and then it's all over."

Jerry appeared to bow them ceremoniously into the
car. On the way into town they talked only fitfully.
When the men spoke it was to discuss the business
that was calling them to St. Louis.

"I'm going to Minne Lawton's for the night, Grace,"
said Irene. "You'd better stop there with me. It's
easier doing that than explaining things at home.
There won't be time for you to stop at Minnie's to
change your things."

Grace had considered the possible embarrassment
that might result from going home at midnight in the
new gown. She meant to explain that she had changed
before leaving the store and had gone home with Irene


after the French lesson, and some of Irene's friends
had dropped in.

"Don't take a chance of being scolded," remarked
Kemp. "You know your family and I suppose you
have some leeway. I'd hate for you to get into trou-

"Oh, I'll fix everything all right. It isn't so awfully
late. I'll be home by twelve."

They dropped Irene at Minnie's and then swung
westward. Grace indicated a point a block from home
where they might leave her.

"If you like The Shack I hope you'll come again,"
said Kemp. "It's been fine to have you along."

"We'll meet again," said Trenton. "We didn't set-
tle much! There'll have to be some more talks many
of them I hope!"

"I hope so too! Thank you both ever so much."

When she reached the Durland gate she caught a
last glimpse of the tail light as the car swung south-
ward round the park.


SHE turned off the hall light at the switch at the
head of the stairs and gained her room unchallenged.
Usually her mother waited up for her, and Grace
breathed a sigh of relief to find her door closed. She
quickly undressed, hiding the new suit in the closet
and throwing out another to wear to work in the morn-

She lay for nearly an hour thinking over the
events of the night but slept at last the sleep of weary
youth and was only roused by the importunate alarm
clock at six-thirty. On her way to the bathroom for
a shower the shower had been a concession to her
and Roy she passed Ethel whose good morning she
thought a little constrained. As she dressed she re-
hearsed the story she meant to tell to account for her
late home-coming. Something would be said about it
and she went downstairs whistling to fortify herself
for the ordeal. Her father was reading the morning
paper by the window in the living room and in re-
sponse to her inquiry as to whether there was any news
muttered absently that there was nothing in par-
ticular, the remark he always made when interrupted
in the reading of his paper.

She found her mother and sister in the kitchen.

"Good morning, Grace," said Mrs. Durland pleas-
antly. "We're a little late, so you might set the table.
Ethel and I have started breakfast."

Mrs. Durland usually made a point of setting the



breakfast table herself and Grace wondered whether
this delegation of the task might not mean that her
mother and Ethel wished to be alone to discuss just
what should be said about her arrival at midnight
when they had every reason to expect her home from
her French lesson by half-past nine.

When they were established at the table Ethel
praised the clear bright morning. It was her habit to
say something hopeful and cheering at the breakfast
table, illuminated at times by an appropriate quota-
tion. Mrs. Durland encouraged this practice and if
Ethel did not at once volunteer her contribution to the
felicity of the matutinal meal, would ask:

"Ethel, haven't you some word for us this morn-

Ethel had offered a quotation from Emerson and
Grace had correctly guessed that it was from the essay
on "Compensation" when Mrs. Durland, having filled
and passed the coffee cups, glanced at Grace.

"What kept you so late last night, dear?" she asked
in the kindest of tones. "I waited up till eleven. I
didn't hear you come in. You must have been very

"Oh, I didn't get in until twelve. After the lesson
I went home with Irene and there were some people
there and we just talked and played cards. I didn't
know the time was passing till it was after eleven."

"That's rather strange, dear. They didn't know
at the Kirby's that you were at their house."

"Why didn't they know?" Grace demanded.

"Because we called up!" her mother answered.
"John Moore's in town and telephoned about eight
o'clock to know if he could come out. Ethel talked
to him."

"He's such a fine fellow," said Ethel. "You know


mother and I met him when we went down to see you
at the University last spring. He's such a splendid

"The kind of high-minded, self-respecting young
man we like to have you know, Grace," remarked Mrs.

"John's a dear," said Grace warmly. "And you told
him to go to Professor Duroy's, and of course he
didn't find me there."

"No; and he called a second time, thinking he had
misunderstood. He was very anxious to get you to
go with him to the football game tomorrow and was
afraid you might make some other engagement. It
was just a little embarrassing that we couldn't tell
him where you were."

"You might have told him to come to the store in
the morning," Grace replied. "Well, I guess I may
as well make a clean breast of it! I played hooky!
Irene and I went to a supper party."

"So you told me an untruth!" exclaimed Mrs. Dur-
land, staring wide-eyed at the culprit. "Grace, this
isn't like you. You should have told me you were
not going to Professor Duroy's. You might have
saved me my worry last night when you were so late
and the Kirbys said Irene had not been home and that
she told her family she was spending the night with a

"Yes, mamma: I shouldn't have told you a fib. I'm
sorry. It was a dreadful sin!"

She looked from one to the other smiling, hoping
to dispel the gloom that seemed to hang above the
table. It was not however in her sister's mind to
suffer the deception to pass unrebuked.

"You'll tell us, I suppose, whom you had supper
with besides Irene?"


Her sister's question angered Grace the more by rea-
son of the tone of forbearance in which it was uttered.
She would tell them nothing. A crisis had risen in her
relations with her family and she resolved to meet it

"I'll not answer your question," she said, addressing
herself directly to Ethel. "It's none of your business
where I go or what I do. Ever since I came home I've
been staying in at night except when I've gone to a
movie with father. I'm working hard every day to
help keep things going here at home. And I mean
to keep on doing it; but I'm not a child and I'm
not going to be checked up for every hour I'm out
of your sight."

"Calm yourself, Grace. Don't say anything you'll
be sorry for!" admonished Mrs. Durland.

"After I'd warned you about the Kirby girl "
began Ethel with the serene patience due an erring
child who may yet be saved from further misde-

"Oh, you warned me all right enough!" Grace in-
terrupted. "You've done a lot to make things pleas-
ant for me since I came home! When I asked those
girls here to the house you made everything as dis-
agreeable as possible. You shied from a harmless
ouija board! And now if I go out for an evening
you're terribly shocked because I lie about it and
refuse to tell you exactly where I've been! But I do
refuse! I'm never going to tell you anything! The
sooner you understand that, Ethel Durland, the sooner
we'll have peace in this house."

Her eyes were bright with tears but she held her
head high. In so far as she reasoned at all in her
anger she was satisfied that justice was on her side.
She was of age, she was self-supporting, she was bear-


ing her full share of the family expenses, and she
meant to establish once and for all her right to free-

"I hadn't expected you to take the matter in this
spirit," said Mrs. Durland. "It isn't like you, Grace.
We want the very best for you. We want you to
have your friends and to enjoy yourself. And be
sure we all appreciate the fine way you met your
disappointment at being obliged to give up college.
But you know we owe it to you, dear, to protect you
in every way possible. There are so many perils
these days."

"Not only here, but everywhere through the coun-
try, the moral conditions are terrible," said Ethel
plaintively. "A young girl can't be too careful."

"Well, if I'm wicked your goodness more than
makes up for it," Grace flashed back; and then, her
anger mounting, "Why do you assume that I've been
wicked? Are you going to take my character away
from me right here at home? If I've got to live here
in an atmosphere of suspicion I'll leave. I can easily
find another boarding place where I won't be pecked
at all the time."

"You wouldn't think of doing that!" cried her
mother aghast. "This is your home, dear; it will
always be your home. We should be so grateful that
we've been able to keep the dear old place."

"Well, you're making me think of itl If I go
you'll be driving me outl"

"No one has any intention of driving you from
home," said Ethel. "We want to guard you with
our faith and love."

"Your faith!" Grace laughed ironically.

"Of course we have all the faith in the world in
you!" declared Mrs. Durland.


Stephen Durland, who had remained silent during
this discussion, was now folding his napkin. He
cleared his throat, glanced from his wife to his daugh-
ters and back to his wife.

"Seems to me this has gone far enough, Alicia.
There's no use acting as though Grace had done any-
thing wrong."

"Of course we didn't mean that, Stephen," said
Mrs. Durland quickly. "It was only "

The fact that Durland so rarely expressed an opin-
ion on any matter pertaining to family affairs had
so surprised her that she found herself unequal to
the task of completing her sentence.

"I guess it's a good place to let the matter drop,"
he said. "The way to show Grace we trust her is to
trust her. Twelve o'clock is not late. I heard Grace
when she came in. I don't blame her for not answer-
ing questions when she's jumped on. Don't nag
Grace. Grace is all right."

This was the longest speech Stephen Durland had
delivered in a family council for years. He rose,
paused to drain the glass of water at his plate and left
the room. A moment later the front door closed very
softly. The gentleness with which it closed had curi-
ously the effect of an emphasis upon his last words.
They waited to give him time to reach the gate. Hav-
ing broken one precedent he might break another;
he might come back. He had even addressed his
wife as Alicia instead of the familiar Allie a radi-
cal and disconcerting departure.

"We may as well clear the table," said Mrs. Dur-
land, when a full minute had passed. Grace assisted
in the clearing up. All the processes of this labor
were executed in silence save for an occasional deep
sigh from Mrs. Durland. When the dishes had been

Online LibraryMeredith NicholsonBroken barriers → online text (page 6 of 27)